From worry to hate

September 6, 2012 at 8:57 am Leave a comment

It is all, need I say it, in your point of view. When you enter the story, or how much you know when you enter, or whether it’s a new story or a continuance.

For instance, Gus’s point of view in Trafalgar Square on July 21, 2005.

Gus was 16 the summer we visited London. There is no doubt he was old enough to ramble at will in the part of London we were in. Leicester and Trafalgar Squares and the areas between them held no danger, but a world of experience. There is also no doubt that I was not old enough for him to roam at will. A drawback, I suppose, to having only one child.

Gus carried one of the cell phones, Deb and I the other. Chris, her son, eight months older, was on his fourth trip to London and could draw the tube map from memory. He had gone to the hotel to read or rest, and Gus was wandering, a notebook and pencil in hand, with a book to read when he tired of writing his impressions of London.

He recited the conversation to me later. Although I don’t specifically remember it, it doesn’t seem out of character and he’d have little reason to make it up.

He answered the call in all innocence, only to hear me demand, “Where the hell are you?”

Baffled by what he could be in trouble about, he began trying to describe where he was, in Trafalgar, although he was actually at the Portrait Gallery, or nearer Piccadilly, or on some stone steps somewhere within a stone’s throw of the towering monument to Nelson. I tired in seconds of his attempt to explain where he was. I told him to come to the very center of Trafalgar Square immediately. My tone must have discouraged argument.

“OK. There’s somebody taking a picture right in front of me . . .”

“Push them out of the way.”

As he told the story later, I ordered him to stay on the phone until I could see him across the way. He made it to the center of the square, where Deb, Chris and I were waiting. He approached with some trepidation, not knowing what I could be so angry about. “Then you were all hugging me and stuff, and asking me where the hell I’d been,” he said later with some sheepishness.

Sitting on the steps, reading the Hitchhiker’s Guide, he may have been the last person in London to know what happened that afternoon. Two weeks before, bombs had torn through the subways and a bus, killing indiscriminately in what subsequent reports have shown to be one of the most stupid and pointless terrorist acts ever, if such things can have a scale. We decided to go to London anyway. The tickets were bought, the reservations were made, and the odds were easy to figure from three thousand miles away.

Standing by a tube stop near the Thames two weeks later, we felt otherwise. Statistics were for odds makers. There may have been eight million people in the city, plus summer tourists, but for us there were only two. And for an hour we didn’t know where they were.

The tube stop was closed. A passerby who knew more than us said the tubes were closed. There’d been another bombing.

It couldn’t have been more than two miles to Trafalgar. It couldn’t have been more than an hour that we didn’t know where the boys were.

The walk to Trafalgar is not continuous in memory. It’s snapshots and film clips. It’s noting to Deb that the people around us didn’t seem panicked, but not mentioning that cell phones seemed to be useless, overwhelmed by the crush of people checking on others and trying to make alternate arrangements with the tubes closed. It’s deciding at one point to wait at least a couple of minutes before calling again, but finding that less than one had passed when I pulled the phone out again. It’s talking about the logistics of where the boys would be based on their plans for the few hours we’d be apart, and trying not to think about those plans having Chris entering the tube a stop away from one of the bomb sites mentioned by the passerby who told us of the bombing.

It’s stopping for a brief conversation with two policemen with submachine guns in front of a tube stop. I remember that Deb and I each asked a question, but couldn’t say which was which.

Why are the tubes closed?

There’s been an incident.

A bombing?


It turned out not to be an incident of the same magnitude as the bombing two weeks before. But no one knew that an hour after the incident. An hour when we didn’t know the whereabouts of, as far as we were concerned, the only two people in London. An hour during which we walked to Trafalgar and waited. An hour that was impossibly long and a walk that was improbably vast.

During our walk Deb distanced herself for a moment from the worry, just long enough to note that she’d never been so close to any sort of major event before, just long enough to note that it felt odd to be in the middle of a story instead of just reading it afterward. We’d both been part of the local government in our small city, talked to our governors, shaken hands with people running for high office, but this felt different. This was news that could become history, as invisible as worry, soundless except for the busy signal on the cell, untouched except by our soles on the sidewalk.

Life returned to normal almost immediately. It soon became apparent there was little to return from. We had tickets for a matinee, and we called from under the marquee to ease the minds of those watching CNN back home. We continued our vacation, and London’s summer sun quickly burned off any heightened sense of wariness or caution.

But two images linger.

The first is of Tottenham Court Road, closed to motorized traffic to allow easier passage for the hordes of pedestrians put on foot by the tube closings. It looked like the grim aftermath of some anti-techno war, with, on that street anyway, not just the electric subways stopped, but all the forms of transport we as a race had spent the better part of two centuries developing.

The second is of a tabloid headline, when the London police inadvertently shot the wrong man later that week. It would be days or weeks before they knew for sure it was an error, and that day the headline read: One Down. That’s why I truly hate the 9/11 terrorists and their half-assed wannabes. Because when I saw that headline, my first instinct was a nod of approval.


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The Logistics of Illusion Orange Ken

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